B’nai B’rith—846 South Union Ave.

For the record, let me state at the outset: I revere the Catholic faith. I believe the Church to have had a vastly civilizing influence on humanity—yes, an enormously unpopular opinion, as society now considers statue destruction and church burning the ideal Sunday outing. Do admit, though, what are your temples of the Enlightenment compared to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or York Minster or Nantes Cathedral (or what’s left of it)?

Point being, in that I love its doctrine and architecture (above and beyond any fetish for thuribles and a preference for Jameson over Bushmills) I don’t want it to seem that I’m picking on the Church—but.

The Church in Los Angeles has had a troubling history with historic buildings, religious and otherwise. Let’s look at just a smattering:

The Oviatt Building. James Oviatt’s eponymous high-rise haberdashery/office tower (Walker & Eisen, 1928) is one of the great Art Deco monuments of Los Angeles, and therefore the world, known for its cut glass, rare woods, neon clock tower and incredible penthouse. Mr. Oviatt was renting the land on which the tower sat from the Archdiocese. In the late 1960s-early ’70s, with demand for non-polyester clothing on the outs, Oviatt tried to sell his building, to pay back rent owed to the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese sabotaged several escrow attempts by making financially unfeasible demands (installation of central air, replacement of the elevators, etc.) on potential buyers. James Oviatt died in 1974 and the building’s trustees voted to give the structure to the Archdiocese in forgiveness of past rent. The Archdiocese immediately put the building on the market as a teardown, informing realtors it would provide the ideal site for a multistory parking garage.

Fortunately, Wayne Ratkovich bought the place and saved it in 1977. Image from Floyd Bariscale.

St. Joseph’s. Los Angeles was once a forest of church spires, few as prominent as the twin spires of St. Joseph Catholic Church, dedicated on the Feast of St. Joseph, May 3, 1903, at 12th and Los Angeles Streets. Saint Joseph’s architects were Brothers Adrian Wewer and Leonard Darscheidt, German Franciscan monks famed for their church designs. St. Joseph’s was heavily damaged in a September 1983 fire that collapsed the roof, but the walls stood fast and the towers remained. The Cultural Heritage Board reasoned with the Archdiocese that the surviving elements of the church—declared Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument #16 some twenty years earlier, in 1963—could be easily rebuilt. But the Church would have none of it, and demolished the structure, to build a modern edifice.

This is what mass in the 1903 church was like (or at least what it was like before Vatican II) as photographed in St. Joseph’s in 1979 for the period picture True Confessions. Here is what the 1985 St. Joseph looks like (architects Brown & Avila are better known for their 1966 St. Genevieve at Roscoe & Hazeltine, and the 1970 Our Lady of the Valley at Topanga Cyn & Gault).

Cathedral of St. Vibiana. This tale is so famous it hardly bears repeating. But anyway: St. Vibiana’s—our first Cathedral, and parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese—was built in 1876 and designed by Ezra Frank Kysor of Kysor & Mathews, basing its design loosely on Barcelona’s 1755 Sant Miquel del Port; famed architect John C. Austin made the façade less Baroque and more Roman when he oversaw additions in 1922. Vibiana’s importance to the Church is one thing, but its importance to Los Angeles in general is so deep and undeniable I won’t even begin to elucidate.

His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony wanted to tear down the 1876 Cathedral. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, his structural engineer told him the structure was sound, although the bell tower required shoring; the Church did not shore the bell tower. In May 1996 Mahony began the process of removing statuary and the windows of the structure; illegal for a Historic-Cultural Monument. On June 1, 1996—early on a Saturday morning (and when, conveniently, all of LA’s top preservationists happened to be away at a conference in San Jose)—demolition crews set to work illegally demolishing the structure. Concerned parties rushed to the site but were ignored by guards at the fence; it took a Superior Court Judge to get him to stop.

Huntington Library

Mahony thought he had an ace in the hole. He kept repeating “if you don’t let us tear this down, we’ll move out of downtown!” But nobody was buying that. Everyone rememberd, for example, when in 1982 the Gas Company at Eighth and Flower said “if you don’t let us tear down neighboring First Methodist to expand our building, we’ll move out of downtown!” So despite protest, they were allowed to demolish First Methodist (John C. Austin, 1923), all its Tiffany mosaics and stained glass, wood paneling and terra cotta, and then the Gas Company said “oh yeah sorry, we’re actually gonna build something new a few blocks north at Fifth and Olive” …and First Methodist remained a parking lot for 35 years.

A legal battle ensued, St. Vibiana did not become a parking lot, and Mahony finally swapped his little church for six acres of County land bordered by Grand, Temple, Hill, and the Hollywood Freeway.  Mahony’s stripped-down, deconstructivist, $250 million church broke ground in September 1997 and was consecrated in September 2002.  

Deconsecrated, retrofitted, it has since become an event space. If you’re familiar with John 2:16…

Which brings us to today’s topic.

B’nai B’rith, 846 South Union Ave. (S. Tilden Norton, 1924). You might be asking, what does a Hebrew congregation have to do with the Catholic church? Well.

First of all, do not confuse the B’nai B’rith about which we are speaking with Congregation B’nai B’rith—LA’s first (chartered) Hebrew temple began in 1862, Congregation B’nai B’rith first holding services in their Ezra Kyzor-designed synagogue on Fort Street (now Broadway) between Second and Third in 1873; in 1896 B’nai B’rith moved further south, to Ninth and Hope, to a grand new onion-domed temple designed by Abraham Moses Edelman (son of chief rabbi, Abram Wolf Edelman); they then moved further west, and built one of the greatest synagogues in the world in 1929, and changed their name to Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Rather, we are discussing B’nai B’rith, the service organization (which also functioned very much like a fraternal lodge). The International Order of B’nai B’rith, begun in New York in 1843, founded its Los Angeles chapter, Orange Lodge No. 224, in 1874, and another, Semi-Tropic Lodge in 1883; they merged to become Lodge 487 in 1899. In the 1880s B’nai B’rith met at Bryson’s Hall on Spring Street; in January 1904, when they had 170 members, they dedicated a fine new hall at 521 West Pico. By 1918 they had moved to a new lodge hall at 17th & Georgia. In the January 13, 1922 issue of The B’nai B’rith Messenger, under notices about Lodge 487:

Fun fact: the weekly B’nai B’rith Messenger was not a publication of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, just as the IOBB was not allied with Congregation B’nai B’rith. Jews just love naming stuff B’nai B’rith is all. (Tr. “Children of the Covenant.”)

Note that their stated goals were 2,000 members and a new building. They achieved both: at 2,000 members in 1923, Lodge 487 became the largest B’nai B’rith Lodge in the nation. And, they built a swanky new building:

It contained “two large lodge-rooms, banquet hall, dancing floors, library, kitchen, elevators, committee-rooms, spacious lobby, gymnasium, shower baths and eight handsome stores” according to this. And its architect was Samuel Tilden Norton. 

S. Tilden Norton is of such glaring importance to Los Angeles’s built environment that…I won’t make this post any longer by detailing his work here. Go read his Wiki page.

B’nai B’rith Messenger, May 2, 1924

Note that the exterior is done in Batchelder tile. Like S. Tilden Norton, I don’t have to tell you of the importance of Batchelder tile.

The International Order of B’nai B’rith settled in, and did their good works, having concerts, etc.

By the mid-1930s, the IOBB 487 have moved, presumably because of the Depression, into a room at 742 South Hill St. 846 South Union becomes the home of other fraternal organizations, like the Blue Devils Post of the American Legion and the Los Angeles Aerie 102 Fraternal Order of Eagles. In 1938 it becomes a little more labor-related, when the Safeway Employees Associationmoves in. By 1942 it was a full-blown temple of labor, as the former B’nai B’rith was now home to Bakery Drivers 276, Dump Truck Drivers 420, Warehousemens 598, Grocery Warehousemens 595, Dairy Haulers 737, Milk Wagon Drivers 93, Meat and Provision Drivers 626, Truck Drivers 208 and 403, Hay Haulers 737, Garage Automotive and Service Station Employees 495, Laundry Workers 52, and Wholesale Delivery Drivers and Salesmen 848.

By 1945 it was just known as the “Teamsters Hall,” “AFL Hall” or the “Teamsters Building.” Here’s a shot outside 846, showing worker’s wives protesting the Teamsters’ throwing their husbands out of work for the holidays:

Only vintage shot I’ve found of the exterior, November 1955. The round neon sign (there were two, one on each side of the building) was fabricated by QRS neon and installed in the spring of 1949. It would have looked very much like this.
Inside the hall! LAPL doesn’t give a date for this image—there were so many transit strikes normally it would be impossible to pinpoint this photo, but they do mention it’s during Shrine Week; therefore this was shot during the mass meeting of June 17, 1950
And THAT’s why all along the top of the building you have these nifty medallions that read AFL, and wagon wheels, symbol of the IBT

Teamsters Hall was renamed Roosevelt Hall in 1960. The Teamsters moved out about 1977 and in 1978, 846 South Union became the location of California International University and Southland College, later known as the Southland Career Institute. The Lighthouse Mission Church purchases 846 in March 1989, and it has been a church these past thirty-some years.

And that brings us around back to the Church. The property, and its large adjacent parking lot, was purchased in September 2018 by Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc., which is the social service arm of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Catholic Charities intends to demolish the building:

The Demolition Notice was affixed to the wall a year ago, according to this Instagram post

This, then, is my message to Catholic Charities’ Executive Director, the Reverend Monsignor Gregory Cox, and its Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles:

I support you, of course, unwaveringly, in your alleviation of the material and spiritual poverty of the poor and disenfranchised. Breaking the cycles of poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and violence is especially important for boys and young men transitioning out of foster care, and I applaud the concept of a village catering to their needs and to that end.

Union Avenue Village is a wonderful concept in achieving your goal. But this is a very large property; the 1923 B’nai B’rith structure takes up only about a third of it. And it was initially constructed with all manner of convenience (showers, gymnasium, kitchens, etc.) conducive to housing young men. Might I suggest adaptive reuse of the property? Rejuvenating this building would certainly fulfill attractive concerns of sustainability and of the circular economy, to be certain, but I would also argue a more esoteric point—that retaining and maintaining a beautiful old building such as this, a touchstone of the neighborhood and link to the past and our shared cultural heritage, is good for the soul. I would say it uplifts the soul, and serves the people of Los Angeles, to retain 846 South Union and incorporate it into the forthcoming Angel’s Flight shelter for homeless boys and housing for Transition Age Youth. Moreover, keeping 846 South Union would reverse the trend of the Church’s propensity toward demolishing historic buildings.

Thank you for your consideration!

Why, it even comes with Calvary stained glass and a neon cross!

3967 Beverly & Friends

There’s a very special part of the world. Beverly Boulevard. You go ahead and cross town on (shudder) the freeways; or traverse the city on, what, Santa Monica (bless your heart); I go in for cruising Beverly when it comes to making my way across Los Angeles.

My favorite stretch on Beverly is this one run, that stretch between Virgil and Western, especially the ten-some blocks between Vermont and Normandie—by and large all one and two-story Spanish-style 1920s structures; the odd car wash; a wonderful 1955 Catholic church by the great Ross Montgomery at Arlington Avenue; an excellent Late Moderne medical building, also from 1955, by J. Don Hartfelder at 3919 (oh wait they just ughed that one up pretty bad); and of course looming above it all the famed 1926 Richard D. King-designed Dicksboro at 3818 Beverly.

I wrote about Beverly in general, and the magical corner of Beverly & Heliotrope in particular, twenty years ago in Los Angeles Neon:

Along the Beverly side of the structure is one of the best 1930s Art Deco neon signs in Los Angeles. Here is an ad for the Beverly Mart from December 1938.

Also smack dab in the middle of it all—at Heliotrope, across the intersection from our beloved Beverly Mart Liquor-Deli—is the Rancho Sinaloa Market, known for its Moderne detailing and corner bar the One Eye Jack.

Take a look at the following images. This is one damn amazing structure.

The left turn spake of in Los Angeles Neon. The market, in orange, at Heliotrope; there’s the Dicksboro in the distance, and the 1965 Beverly-Catalina Car Wash hiding in the foliage at right
Bow before me!
Jeez kinda reminds me of the tower of the old Morgan, Walls & Clements KEHE/KFI building that’s just a few blocks away on Ver—oh wait the City tore it town
Like the painted letters, it once would have had large lettering like this. Gads, what I wouldn’t give for a shot of this market in 1937.

How is it that stepped pylon remained standing after the Parapet Ordinance of 1949, Sylmar, Whittier, Northridge, and a fire in 1985? Incredible. These kind of intact mid-30s Moderne markets are rare as hen’s teeth and a valuable part of the built environment. (Heck, I bet even Kaplan Chen Kaplan would agree with that!) In short, it is a rare surviving example of its type and retains its integrity.

3967-3977 Beverly was designed by Edwin Felix Rudolph (1895-1942) and built in the summer/fall of 1936. It was funded by Mrs. Alice B. Cohen who lived next door at 301 N. Berendo (more on 301 N. Berendo later). In 1939 it was the Continental Grocery, by 1945 it was the B & B Meat Market (although I suspect the B & B Meat Market was located inside the Continental Grocery).

That is, I believe the market rented out to various sub-markets, à la Grand Central Market; case in point, this ad, which dates to September 1939

Who was Edwin Felix Rudolph? He’s not particularly well-known, Sinaloa Market being, in my humble opinion, his best work (or best known work, there’s a lot more research to be done on Rudolph). Here is his 1939 Streamline Moderne industrial building for Central Realty at 3101 East 12th St.—

Look closely and note the glass brick adjacent the rounded corner

And this is his 1937 industrial building for the Brin Brothers at 631 South Anderson:

I’d tell you to personally go take in the glory of that Deco door and marvel at the Streamline pilasters but this building was unfortunately too near the 1932 Sixth Street Bridge. Yeah, they tore that down too.

Rudolph’s also responsible for the 1939 Safeway packing plant on Vernon east of Alameda; a 1939 San Fernando warehouse and feed mill for San Fernando Milling in Van Nuys; a 1934 market at 1070 West Jefferson (damaged in the ’92 riots, it was thereafter helpfully demolished by the nonprofit “Rebuild LA” thus ensuring nothing would be rebuilt there, ever); and was structural engineer for a number of buildings including the recently-landmarked Sunset House/Hollywood Reporter.

In late 1954 the Continental Grocery/B & B Meat Market became the dental offices of the Hotel and Restaurant Union. In 1967 the market became the home of a typography/printing/darkroom shop called Ad Compositors. It reverted back to groceries in 1975 when it became the Wai Wai Market (and one of the few places in town, noted the Times in 1981, to find Thai staples like makrut, nam pla and pickled egg yolks). It was purchased by Vietnamese refugee Luong Truong in 1985, becoming the Cathay market, and although Truong suffered a disastrous fire there that year, he persevered. It became the Rancho Sinaloa sometime around 2000.

Its corner shop at 3977 began life as a malt shop, became a cleaners, was an insurance agent’s office in the 1950s, and got its bar license in 1965, originally called The Yukon—and was a gay bar, according to the records at the One Archives—and was renamed One Eye Jack sometime around 1972.

And because this is RIPLosAngeles, you know where this is going. Yep:

How many kinds of beige is that? I see soiled diaper beige, Depression Beige™, vomit beige and some kind of grayish brown that’s not quite beige but trying very hard to be

Brought to you from the good folks of 4D Development and Investment. The design is by AFCO Development. Every time I do one of these posts I think “well, we’ve finally hit bottom. A rendering can’t get worse than this.” And then I’m pleasantly surprised-horrified.

And yes, it’s TOC-ridden: because seven units shall be low income, it gets a sixteen foot increase in legally allowed height, to sixty-six feet; and a 25% decrease in open space around it. Floor area ratio is upped by 14%, and the whole project has a 70% increase in density. There’s only a half a parking spot for each unit.

So, here’s the Department of City Planning report on the site. It’s prepared by some guy named Jason Hernández who, because he works for the City, God bless him, doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. For example, he states that the 1936 market is built in 1942, and two houses from 1919 are from 1922, etc. I mean why should he bother to be sensitive or accurate? After all he works for the City so kind of has to ensure they get torn down—and the poor kid only makes $92,000 a year (and that’s just part-time), so why should we even expect him to be good at his job?

But then, he’s probably just getting his information from what he was given by Kaplan Chen Kaplan, who did the Historic Resource Eval report for City Planning. Hernández wrote on page 26: “According to the Historic Resource Evaluation conducted by Kaplan Chen Kaplan on November 22, 2019, none of the four (4) existing buildings were found to have historic significance or have the potential to be a historic resource. “ Well of course not! KCK are high-priced consultants-for-hire, utilized frequently by government and developers, routinely hired to tear down your neighborhood, a fact about which I go into some detail here. The Office of Historic Resources also says our subject properties are of no historic importance—but only, it states, did it decide so “after reviewing the Historic Resource Evaluation.” Which was just partisan propaganda and, though I guarantee you it was over 200 pages long, contained less pertinent and accurate information in it than this stupid little post does. C’mon OHR, you can do better.

Anyway. The other day this image appeared on Esotouric’s IG:

The writing on the side of the building reads “I am a moral leper, do us both a favor and cut off my hands”

So that, being demo fencing, is that. But wait! Don’t answer yet! You’ll also receive THE DEMOLITION OF THESE THREE SINGLE FAMILY HOMES!

There’s our market bottom left, but they’re also tearing down the SFD to its north at 306 N Heliotrope, and the two houses to its west, at 301 & 307 N Berendo

That’s right, immediately to the east, at 301 North Berendo (where Alice B. Cohen lived, who built the Continental/B & B Market, remember?) is this lovely little house, which the City report refers to as a “commercial building,” which I suppose is fair. It began as an SFD, and became a commercial building, converted to a restaurant:

301 was constructed in 1919 by builder Samuel W. Spangler, who acted as its architect; Spangler was one of the many LA entrepreneurs who built and sold concrete bungalows in the teens. It was a restaurant by 1942, when owned by Lucille Rowley, and through the 1950s was Lucille’s Cottage.

Women cooks only!
I see you, rock chimney hiding in the foliage

In 1961 it became, briefly, Young’s Oriental Inn—”The Oriental Gourmet Spot of Los Angeles.” In 1963 it became the site of the first Peruvian restaurant in the United States. Others would follow, but Inca’s was first and always considered best, a highly-regarded red table-clothed affair run by Carlos and Ofelia Binasa and managed by son Gabriel, as the only Peruvian easting establishment to feature serious and authentic dishes; it also had art showings. The space became Atlactatl in September 1989, and has (had) the best pupusas in town (the southland’s best pupuserias are located in my neighborhood, but these, these merited driving to).

This it Atlacatl’s neighbor to the north, 307 North Berendo:

Like Spangler, Ira Allison Marshall was a local realty man, who built, bought and sold bungalows across Los Angeles in the teens, perhaps as many as 250, mostly in the Westlake district. Marshall built this in early 1919. It has a wonderful clipped gable roof, and the traditional American Colonial boxed eave return above the porch. Look at all those original windows! In December 1979, 301-307 N. Berendo became the International Institute of the Maitre-D’, which transformed into the National Restaurant Academy in September 1980, and which apparently dissolved in mid-late 1983.

To the west of our friends on Berendo, at the north of our market, is 306 North Heliotrope:

Look at the pride of place here—Google Street even managed to capture the gardener plying his trade

Again, American Colonial built in 1919, this time for a Ms. Gretta C. Sutherland; the builder was Charles MacMillan. Gable roofed, hipped n’ clipped, with a wonderful matching clipped hip porch gable. Tough to see through the security bars but, like the house behind it on Berendo, original sidelights and windows (double hung in this case) and, I hope I don’t have to point out, marvel of marvels, neither house has been stucco’d.

Also, in the late 40s this is where you’d go for your colon hydrotherapy—including expert manipulation by a Graduate Nurse

So as I was saying. All this gets dumpster’d in favor of this—

Yes, build this and the neighborhood will populate with scissor-door cars and baby strollers

Built to the edges of the street—and monstrous—is a fate we must accept solely for no other reason than it having seven affordable units within. Because you cannot disagree with housing, because we don’t build housing! Except…there’s a million of these things going up every day, everywhere. There were 58,437 market-rate units built in Los Angeles in 17-18-19, plus another 10,877 low-income units; for example, in 2018 specifically, Los Angeles gained only 2,000 residents yet built 16,525 units. And the number of units added to market in 2020 (although I am without precise numbers as the Department of Finance has yet to release them) has skyrocketed, in part because of implementation of the ADU Ordinance, even despite COVID (not to mention the 8,000 new units for homeless families, built via PropHHH).

So why, then, are rents so high? Well, as regards newly-built units added to the housing stock, it has much to do with the exorbitant cost of building in Los Angeles—apart from our high land acquisition costs, it runs about $400/sf to build here, given the very steep cost of labor, high cost of construction materials, and meeting our particular building regulatory codes (solar, sprinklers, etc.); our permitting fees, which are nothing compared to all the escalating school, parks, and other government-mandated fees (LAUSD’s fee alone for this project will run about $425,000); the pricey soft costs of architects and engineers, and then you have to deal with property taxes, and so on. No-one is going to build if they can’t recoup their investment (unless it’s a government project, of course) and they wouldn’t build this if it wouldn’t turn a profit; not turning a profit makes people get fired. It stands to reason, then, someone is paying $4,000/mo to live in a studio.

That said, there has been much talk about how many of these new units are built as luxury units, and many sit empty, and the answer therefore is slapping the owners with a vacancy tax. I would contend, however, that it is not the private sector’s responsibility to alleviate social ills. But they do, in fact, indirectly—the bulk of LA’s upkeep is paid for by real estate: of the City of Los Angeles’ $5billion annual budget, $3.5billion comes from property taxes and permitting/fees. This year we’ll spend nearly a half-billion of that haul on the homeless crisis, which many contend is not nearly enough. You know, $130million of this year’s budget is going to the City Attorneys office—that could build subsidized units rather than pay for those endless $400/hr attorneys, right? $52million is earmarked to pay salaries at City Planning, who—as I’ve demonstrated—hire incompetents and worse, pay for expensive, lavish studies written by venal jackals (who, in their defense, are at least competent at turning out those depressingly repetitious “this significant structure is insignificant!” studies). Cut their budget and spend that money on affordable housing—you know, without cutting Office of Historic Resources, naturally.

But forgive my thinking out loud—I’m neither an authority on housing crises nor their resolutions, so don’t take to me task on the previous paragraphs. I just like to look at old buildings. Which is becoming an increasingly difficult pleasure, since developers keep tearing them down, aided and abetted by a local government that’s making bank on the process.

A Word or Two on Density

I am forever fascinated by GrowLA’s Facebook page. They are first-tier density cheerleaders, fervently committed to tearing down any and all Los Angeles and replacing it with vast swaths of multi-units. Here is their cover page:

Advocacy group CA-YIMBY is funded by the Building Industry Association, Construction Trades Council, Regional Council of Carpenters, and the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union, God bless ’em

Need I say, the opposite of this graphic is the actual truth. According to studies by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and all their various graphs involving demographic cross-tabulations of USFPP vs PPB (Unit Square Footage-Per-Person, Person-Per-Bedoom) and so forth, Americans in houses are “overhoused,” meaning they have more elbow room, while Americans in denser areas and multiunits are “underhoused,” i.e., suffering from overcrowding. This is true across all spectrums of race and ethnicity, income, metropolitan area, citizenship, etc. Don’t know if the YIMBYs made an honest mistake here, or they’re just lying liars who lie. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, of course.

What sort of thing gets posted on GrowLA? This is typical:

It’s like looking down the Norden bombsight

There’s you answer, “get” the City of Los Angeles to “do this,” what, through eminent domain? Tearing down single family homes is always the answer. (We’ll ignore the fact that 5,000+ units are already under construction for UCLA right now.)

And what are we to replace Los Angeles’ single-family-dwellings with? Micro-Units, of course!

How can it be spread, John? Like any infectious disease, I suppose…

When you read this article, you’re supposed to feel warm and fuzzy because look! there’s more units and they COST LESS! Win for millennials!

Of course, what they fail to explicate: When you spend that $2,305 for a one-bedroom you are getting on average 768 square feet. That is because average rent around there is $3/sf. Ergo, the 265 square foot apartment at MicroUnitz should cost $795 a month. Why then would you pay $1500, or $5.66 a square foot, for your tiny place, when $5.66/sf is the going rate in Beverly Hills? But think of the amenities! Like not…having…parking…or a closet.

But you’re not supposed to ask these questions. You’re supposed to just accept that we can add millions of new people to Los Angeles—it will all be ok because we can tear down the old neighborhoods, those homes and lawns and trees, and learn to live with less. (I wrote a little bit about glorified dorm life in this post.) It has been said that living with less is good for the environment, and far be it from me to argue with that. What it does to your soul be damned, of course. The individual (and certainly the soul) are outdated concepts, anyway.

The new way of living is certainly the pod. All hail the pod! Here is General Pod discussing life in the Pod. Moscow-born Elvina Beck, CEO of PodShare, formed PodShare “like the idea of the government giving you everything in a Communist state”…though you still have to pay $1200 for the privilege. Which I suppose is a step up from living in disused sewer pipes:

I like the big glass wall that underscores “your basic human right to privacy is a lie”

Los Angeles has been criticized as an exclusionary region for homebuyers, though at least homes kept selling, which prevented their demolition. As those monied, home-buying types depart California in general and Los Angeles in particular, the powers-that-be are only interested in filling the void with a vast sea of perpetual rent serfs who will never know antiquated concepts like “elbow room.” I’m not sure how these PodPeople™ are going to pay the rent; Lord knows they won’t be working for Disney or Universal or Warner Brothers (if any of us are left alive; at 59 people per acre, Los Angeles is considerably more dense than New York or Chicago [47 and 41 people per acre, respectively] and we are being absolutely hammered by the plague thanks to that). Maybe they can get a service industry jo—oh, damn. Wait I know, government can subsidize their rent, via the money-making Californians paying 62¢ out of every $1.00 they earn—oh that’s right, those people moved out of California because the government took 62¢ out of every dollar they earned.

Well then I guess I don’t know what will happen. People like me will keep complaining I suppose, but I am after all the problem, according to our pals at GrowLA:

Yeahhh, my property taxes prop up your teacher’s union, so you’re welcome

People will know about it! Me and that pesky politician who sides with the homeowner. (Because this blog exists to recount all those times pesky politicians keep stepping in to save houses from becoming multiunit Jenga boxes.) But goddamn the homeowner! Who owns their home at the expense of everybody else! I can’t wait till we do away with that pesky private property and fix that!

Whither Los Angeles? Will we end up living as atomized ants in a great isolating colony? These kooky kids of to-day love them some globalism, and the Great Reset promulgated by their kreepy king Klaus Schwab, who is working for the abolition of private property (of your private property, that is; elites buy up everything with the money you gave them). So when Los Angeles becomes this, and I hear you say “once in awhile I get annoyed about the fact that I have no real privacy. No where I can go and not be registered. I know that, somewhere, everything I do, think and dream of is recorded.” but at least it’s “much better than the path we were on!” I will punch you in the…no, I’m sure I will say Hail General Pod.

Easing Back Into It, via 915 S. Grand View

Can’t believe it’s been nigh on four months since I’ve posted. I must beg your forgiveness—in September we birthed the Bunker Hill book with Angel City Press, thereafter doing lots of publicity, while at the same time I was compiling and designing my self-published Bunker Noir! magazine, so it’s been a busy autumn. But I’ve been keeping an eye on things, and there’s a lot to talk about.

Of course during these lock’d-down times (to think, I remember when they were just loc’d out) the demolition of Los Angeles has managed to continue apace. While the act of your shopping six-feet-apart at the local mom& pop is definitely going to kill our collective grandma (and no, you’re not allowed to go to her funeral either), a yard full of dudes shoulder to shoulder yelling and sweating and tearing down vintage houses to build Khrushchyovkas, well, that in fact makes those fellows immune to Coronavirus. Trust the science.

Now then. Let’s talk for a sec about a building that has no immediate threat of which I am aware. No permit has been taken out in anger against it. But still.

Here she is, 915 South Grand View St.

The cornice return says Greek Revival but the little swoop to it almost says Japanesque, which jives with the Craftsmany exposed beams. Homina homina homina

George W. Stimson, prominent Pasadena developer and prolific builder of early Los Angeles, without whom we’d have no West Adams-Normandie neighborhood, on October 11th 1902 pulled permits to erect three grand homes: 1312 West Fifth Street (demolished in 1954), 457 Westlake Avenue (lost to the Hollywood Freeway), and 915 Grand View. The architect here is George Lawrence Stimson, who did all the architectural work for his father. Read more about G. Lawrence Stimson here and here and here.

Note the stone wall hiding behind the fence. And check out that porte-cochère.

915 Grand View was purchased from developer Stimson by William Horatio Sanders, who, though his parents were English, was born in Scotland, in June 1839. He came to America in 1860 at twenty, going to work on the railroads; he married Emma Ellsworth in Minnesota in 1878. He and Emma came to Pomona in the eighties, where W. H. worked as a civil engineer. He became a partner in the Los Angeles-based engineering firm of Quinton, Olmsted & Sanders, and moved from Pomona to Los Angeles to be closer to the action. W.H. also worked as an engineer for the newly-formed United States Reclamation Service Railroad when he and Emma pulled up Pomona stakes and bought Grand View. They lived there until he passed away in the house, in 1924; Emma moved back to Pomona and passed in March 1942 (she was fifteen years his junior).

After 1924 it becomes the home and chiropractic offices of Dr. George Shabo (who builds the garage in back in 1932); he and his wife Vera live there until his death in 1949. It remains single family until owner Joseph Gary converts a couple rooms to apartments in 1961.

A view down the street

So why do I bring up this charming old home? It sold last week, on December 21st. The realtor copy—as penned by Paul Yoo of Keller Williams— reads thus:

The mention that 915 is an “excellent opportunity for developers to acquire prime property on an R4 zoned and TOC Tier 3 lot” is what, I would wager, sealed the deal. Therefore, according to its TOC, this 117-y.o. two-unit with the hedges and the rock wall will likely become a thirteen-unit, pushed right to the sidewalk, 22′ higher than surrounding buildings, etc. On the other hand, maybe the new owner will keep it a duplex with the church, or heck, even return the whole thing to an SFD! Because that happens so often.

Meanwhile, you shelter in place. Your whole neighborhood is clamped down tight. Then why is there no calm in the world? Why, when you are trying to sleep at eight in the morning—because Lord knows you can’t go to work—there’s hammering and high-pitched tile saws everywhere? Because the building of high priced condos is essential work. Everybody knows that.

So keep an eye on your neighbor. No, not to spy on their mask-wearing. On their purchase of moving boxes. Chances are good they’re getting the hell out. Then a bunch of investors will swoop in, purchase their place. These newfolk will gleefully tear down what’s left of Old LA, and haul in a hundred heavy-breathing workers, a-hammering furiously. A million units built nice and dense, housing crisis ended! Just like the last time a bunch of new units were added to the stock, which certainly cured us. This time it may be a little different though. New immigrants into California will pay the rent with…what? The odd $600 check?

I’ll just be sad when they tear down 915 Grand View.

An Appeal to Reason at 1537 South Wilton Pl.

Let’s say you’re living peacefully in your vintage home on your block of gracious low-slung craftsmans when some developer decides to tear down the house next door to put in something grossly out-of-scale. You’re shocked that it will block light and air and views and ruin parking and cause noise and destroy the historic fabric of your neighborhood and the whole magilla. Surely you can lay out your concerns to the Powers That Be in the form of an appeal to which they’ll listen thoughtfully and say, My God, You’re Right. Maybe in this case we shouldn’t worship at the altar of Scott Wiener and fall in lockstep with the abjuration of zoning ordinances.

Or, the City might tell you to go screw.

Take for example 1537 South Wilton Place. It was built in 1905 and designed by Charles F. Whittlesey. The F is for Effing, because this house was designed by CHARLES EFFING WHITTLESEY.

That’s quite the cross-gable! Dig those rafter tails, the balconette railings, and that Swiss Chalet balcony. Check out the flare wingwall!
An older Google StreetView shot when it was painted slightly differently. Before the nice new owners who bought the house in mid-2018 let the lawn die.
Lookit that door. And those stained-glass transom windows will emit a satisfying crunch come the bulldozer.
The Staff Response to the neighborhood appeal was, and I’m not kidding, that the block does not have uniform character in regards to height and scale. Compare the above two images with what the developer is building. Yeeeesss, Director of Planning Vincent P. Bertoni, the block is just FULL of five-story cubes all OVER the damn place.

So, demolish the hell out of the Whittlesey, and in its place, Gabriel and Tomer Fedida propose building this five-story, fifty-five-foot, twenty-one unit, 22,313 square foot apartment complex. The City is awarding them a collection of zoning variances, allowing the Fedidas to build eleven feet higher than permitted by law; decreasing the side yard requirement 25%; and giving them a 20% decrease in the open space requirement.

As rendered Micheal Ko of KSK Design

So the neighbors approached the City and said, hey, we’re filing an appeal, in that there’s a few problems here. They pointed out that the South Los Angeles Community Plan Design Guidelines/Citywide Residential Design Guidelines require new developments to respect the scale and architecture and identity of the surrounding historic neighborhood, especially as this neighborhood falls under the Character Residential Overlay as implemented by the City Council to protect the historic neighborhoods in South Los Angeles. Plus the developer screwed up the math on the TOC Incentives, getting them all kinds of wrong, as further miscalculated by City staff. And you can’t just make the project vested for land use entitlements and CEQA exempt because you feel like it. And so on.

And to all of this the City replied. They replied well, you say your neighborhood has a certain character, but we say your neighborhood has all sorts of weird buildings, so stop worrying about it, and so as to you and your Citywide Design Guidelines, we dismiss your concerns utterly. For example, when you say two stories is the prevailing height on the block, we reply with, basically, sure, true, but so what (and implying as well, you terrible people, if we don’t hand the developers the extra height then the project won’t “pencil out” and then how, oh how can we have those two whole low-income units?). Oh, and all that stuff about entitlements and TOC? Well, don’t even try to argue TOC. It’s TOC, man.

But, said the Department of City Planning’s City Planning Commission, we do agree that neither the developers nor us gave one piddling iota of thought or care as to whether 1537 might be a potential historic resource, so tell ya what, we will hire some real live architects, Kaplan Chen Kaplan, to do a Historic Resource Evaluation Report on this here Whittlesey house.

KCK came back and said the Whittlesey house was absolute worthless crap, devoid of all merit in every conceivable way. KCK’s report was some 100+ pages and, since they bill on average at $200/hour, I can assure you, was not cheap. Your tax dollars at work! For example, KCK hired an RPA Certified Archaeologist to check records, which is akin to hunting mosquitos with an elephant gun; it’s the kind of work you give to Bob the Unpaid Intern and and he does it on his lunchbreak. Hell, it’s the elemental gruntwork I save for when I’m hungover and do it in half my lunchbreak.

KCK’s report was written primarily by “historic consultant” Pam O’Connor, whom you specifically hire when you want to make sure something is described as “unworthy of preservation.” When Mayor of Santa Monica, she fought to remove landmark status and tear down landmarks. O’Connor is best known as the only Santa Monica council member to lobby against Millard Sheets. Look at these Late Moderne and Modern buildings on North Central in Glendale. Does O’Connor understand them at all? No, she does not. (Or maybe she secretly does, but still has to recommend their destruction, because that’s her damn job.)

In any event, some snorty guffaws and one Very Expensive and Useless Study later, and the City sat down to thoughtfully consider the neighborhood’s appeal. Which is precisely why they own a comically oversized rubber DENIED stamp they use to pound upon appeals with an embarrassingly ebullient and theatrical flourish.

One more shot—check out the neighbor to its immediate south. 1543 was designed by the great Edward Butler Rust, who we discussed here
Ok, another one more shot. 1517, two doors north, here in the Crenshaw Heights tract, built by George Crenshaw in 1910 as the home of Loren Crenshaw. Yep, nothin’ historic around here.

10912 West Blix St., No. Hollywood

Up in the Valley there’s an indication as to how we used to live. Low slung structures, lots of open space. Cool shade from the towering trees. This is, of course, a rare, precious, disappearing commodity.

In the autumn of 1939 a fellow named P. N. Morgan designed and built a twelve-room, four family residential structure just off Lankershim in North Hollywood, at 10912 Blix. Then, a chap named W. Charles Swett saw what Morgan did, and liked it so much that in the spring of 1940 he pulled permits to put up one very much like it on the adjoining property at 10916, hiring engineer/architect Edward Rudolph to design another one-story, twelve-room four-unit.

Look how nicely the two work together. See how they form a sort of allée, passing through a planted boscage.

10912, left; 10916, right

Needless to say, 19012 was marketed as a development opportunity:

Yeah, you market those condos to the Warner employees.

And the lot, being 57×170, is going to lose any vestige of open space to absorb a five-story, eighteen-unit structure:

Here’s an overhead—that tree canopy is about as dense a green spot as you’ll ever find that close to Lankershim.

Sorry to see them go. But at least we can revel in the irony that it’s the people who yell loudest about climate change are also those who yell loudest about building more housing. Sweet, sweet irony.

And yet… The footprint of the four-unit structure now is 41×80. Were Boyajian & Co. to build on that same footprint, with three stories of four units and two stores of three, up five stories, well, there’s your eighteen units, with trees left intact, and—

Oh wait nevermind, I just found the rendering for the thing. I was right, it eats up every inch:

By the way, proving again that architects always…improve…when making their renderings, it should be noted that in some weird attempt to ameliorate the fact their client is ripping out a whole bunch of mature trees, they’ve invented a bunch of trees for the rendering. Literally none of the trees on the surrounding properties actually exist. Neither does that nice fence, which in reality is chain link, behind which there are no crepe myrtles. They also took out a telephone pole and apparently added an encroaching red tile-roofed structure? I bet those ladies are Warner employees, too.

1138 Wilshire Blvd.

Over in Mid-City, on Wilshire Boulevard near the corner of Lucas Street, there’s an unassuming Late Moderne commercial structure. It was built in the fall of 1951, of precast concrete construction, designed by the architectural firm of McClellan, MacDonald & Markwith, its principal designer being Jack H. MacDonald. Construction was by Buttress & McClellan.

So, as you might imagine, it and its corner neighbors are due to be replaced by a Newport Beach development concern called PacTen Partners (so named because its partners were all athletes at PacTen universities) with 140 luxury condominiums. PacTen have secured financing “from an overseas capital source,” and hired KTGY to design the TOC-benefitting, 185-foot tower.

You know, I hear you say, I don’t, like, get this building. Perhaps it’s not the easiest building in the world to love. But I bet I know who does love it! That nutburger over on Skyscraperpage who kept posting about Jack MacDonald a while back. Who kept going on and on and on and putting up picture after picture after picture of MacDonald-designed Mid-Century commercial buildings. God, what a weirdo.

What I find most charming about this rendering is that they—evidently—intend to remove the “Wilshire Special” streetlamp.

Here’s something else I find pretty amusing. See 1138’s neighbor, the goofy-looking putty-colored 1980s thing? That structure, 1140/50 Wilshire was, in fact, built in 1904. It had a stucco job in 1984:

1140/50 Wilshire was built back when Wilshire Blvd. was still known as Orange Street. Image from the Laskey Collection at LAPL.

Taix and the City

So you may remember my “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Taix* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” post from September.

Of course, since you read this blog, you’ve probably already seen the recently-released renderings of Taix’s forthcoming replacement, but I would be remiss in my duties were I not to make mention of them here.

So. Remember what I said in September’s post about how you’d have to have a dead soul to not be charmed by Taix’s faux-French village vernacular? Well, you’d have to be born with no soul to love this:

A magical pairing of dirty stucco and mustard-beige

Missed Taix? It’s over there:

No no, down there, next to my favorite shop, Retail

Now I’m not implying that the good people at Togawa-Smith-Martin have no souls. I’m sure they cast reflections in mirrors and everything. It’s just that those people who get hot for their “brown stack o’ boxes with metal parts and some balconies” style, those people I worry about.

But such people don’t exist, I hear you say, and you are correct. Even the Curbed commenters, wetting themselves with glee over the destruction of Taix, admit that this blah-dern blandmark embarrasses the lot of us. They also admit that the new Taix will not succeed; without the charm of its architecture, and the ambience of its interior, it will fail worse than the French agricultural harvest of 1788. And we all know how that turned out.

Dear Lord I fell asleep just posting a picture of it. It’s like the Colin Robinson of architecture.

What, then? Are we resigned to her destruction? Perhaps not. There is, after all, Les Amis de Taix, dedicated to her retention and preservation (their petition is here). Esotouric has a fascinating theory that Holland Group purposely turned the destruction and resurrection of Taix into a trainwreck just to sink the project, a big fat write-off as we head into an economic slowdown being, you know, better than nothing.

But, I hear you say, you can’t possibly want to stop a project like this, because housing!  Oh you and your bizarre strange-bedfellow propaganda from Billionaire Fatcat Developers and best pals Big Government Leftist Ideologues.  Who tell us how we’re to live, when they don’t even live here—Clyde Holland lives in Vancouver and Scott Wiener lives in San Francisco (ok, maybe not such strange bedfellows).  

Besides, Holland Residential is famous for illegally Airbnb’ing its units. True, this they have denied and responded by saying “well, our units are rented by corporate clients and THEY Airbnb them, not us!”  Yes, well, either way, I’m sure we have therewith ended the housing crisis, and good for all of us.

Ultimately, Taix must be destroyed because its architecture connotes “little European village.”  It positively reeks of the wholesome and virtuous.  It’s not popular to make value judgments extolling the positive aspects of European culture these days:  it’s hip as hell to hate on Europe as hard as you possibly can—well, old Europe anyway.  God forbid something as simple as some half-timbering might make you meditate on truth, beauty, devotion, tradition; all anathema to the modern world.  I’m surprised people aren’t protesting it.

And Taix has whimsy. Gads, people today sure hate whimsy. (I mean I know millennials are supposed to be a joyless bunch but enough already. Embrace whimsy, ya knuckleheads!)

Whither Taix? It’s going to be a strange and fascinating ride…as is everything in this deeply polluted world. For which I have nothing but hope. Stay tuned.

3525 South Bronson Ave.

Greetings all! Marsak here. Remember when I used to look at demo permits and blog about the structures? Good times. I’ll get back to it, I swear. I’ve been completely consumed with this book project the last few months. Big thank-you to Kim who’s been keeping the flame alive here at RIP!

But I saw this today and just had to toss it out there. There’s an Instagram page called southlabuildings, which I love, because I love South Los Angeles so damn much.

Go add them on your IG

And I love this house to an absurd degree. It was listed for sale recently. The listing read in part:

Which reads “tear this down and build a giant-ass box you crazy bastards!”

The house was listed, relisted and delisted, so who knows what’s going on with it. There is/was apparently a demo permit issued, as evidenced by this photo, though there’s nothing about the issuance of a demolition permit proper at City Planning or on ZIMAS—

Although at DBS we do have confirmation that they’ve gone through and have had their Plan Check approved, which does not bode well—

So let’s talk a bit about this house. Of course every developer from God-knows-where wants to tear it down—to build a superdense coronavirus hotbox that looks like some preteen’s Jenga tower—and, I might add, without a thought of moving it. Moving it, you say? Who does that? Well you know, it was moved here after all.

That’s right, it came from somewhere else. Figueroa south of downtown used to be full of grand homes, once upon a time (like, say, this one). And Martin Bekins’s house at 1341 South Figueroa St., built in the spring/summer of 1907, was one of them. Martin Bekins is yes, THAT Bekins. Read more about him here and here. Bekins & family stayed in the house until downtown grew up around them and in the early-mid 1920s built something larger and with more property out in Eagle Rock.

When you live in a big house on Figueroa, muckety-mucks come speak in your living room, and then you make them governor

The architect of 1341 South Figueroa was John A. Mathis. Mathis came to Los Angeles in 1885 and established the Mathis Construction Company. He built all over the southland. Below is another Mathis house; from what I can tell, it and Bronson are the sole remaining two.

2225 West Twentieth St., J. A. Mathis, 1905. This house just underwent renovation and restoration. Why can’t our friend on Bronson? C’mon Jefferson Park! Don’t let West Adams make a fool of ya!

Anyway, after Bekins moved to Eagle Rock in the mid-1920s, the spot at 1341 was needed for something else (Bekins Co. built a commercial structure on the site, which disappeared in the early 1970s, and it’s all Convention Center down there now), so the house was picked up and moved by Welte House Moving Co. in the spring of 1929, where she’s been ever since.

And there‘s a wishing well! Let’s all go toss in some coins and envision her restoration

I mean look at the old girl. Not stucco’d, the chimneys are there, all original windows, the porches haven’t been enclosed…incredible. Large corner lot. If ever a home could come back, and be a showplace and a feather in the cap of Los Angeles, it is this one.

So what say ye, Los Angeles?

The Cranky Preservationist in Reports of the Death of The White Log Coffee Shop Have Been Exaggerated (episode 26)


Architectural historian Nathan Marsak loves Los Angeles, and hates to see important buildings neglected and abused, whether by slumlord owners or the savage public. Follow him on his urban adventures as he sees something that looks like crap, opens his yap and spontaneously lets you know exactly why this place matters.

Episode 26 finds Nathan and his wee pal The Los Angeles Preservation Imp at 11th & Hill, kitty corner from the Herald Examiner, at the scene of a recent fire that’s had fans of the faux log cabin diner that’s occupied the corner since 1933 worried sick.

But the diner’s designer Ken Bemis was a super genius, praised in Fortune Magazine for his “cat-like brain, which, dropped from anywhere, always lands on its feet.” The building might look like an old New England log cabin, but was in fact a patented ultra-modern fire-proof marvel, its concrete “logs” poured into versatile wall and window molds that could be reconfigured to taste, or packed up to move to a new site with ease. The fire had scarcely scorched the place.

While skipping happily around the undamaged log cabin, and letting the imp root around in the burned fixtures tossed around back, Nathan encounters a couple of interested parties, and lets loose with a little improvisational preservation advocacy.

We know it’s strange to see people walking around, coming up to talk to each other, touching their faces and so forth, yet this was our beloved Los Angeles just a month ago. And while we shelter in place and do our best to look out for one another and our beloved local landmarks from afar, there is just one ray of sunshine we can’t help but bask in: the perceived wisdom that every small, cool, historic building like the White Log Coffee Shop that sits on valuable Downtown L.A. real estate is doomed is over now. There are hard times ahead for Los Angeles, that’s certain, but we might just get to hang on to more of our landmarks. And what are we without them? Cranky, that’s what!

Where will the Cranky Preservationist turn up next? Stay tuned!